Trial of a lawsuit that seeks to stop yoga instruction in the Encinitas Union School District got under way Monday in a San Diego courtroom.
The lawsuit was filed by the National Center for Law and Policy on behalf of Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose children attend one of the district's nine schools. They contend that Ashtanga yoga is religious in nature, and that opting out costs students physical education time.
Controversy over the program erupted last year as the district began to develop a health and wellness curriculum that includes yoga.
The program was funded by a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, which promotes Ashtanga yoga, a fast-paced form of yoga of progressively more demanding poses with synchronized breathing. The district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools.
Dean Broyles, who represents the plaintiffs in this case, quizzed Baird about the K.P. Jois Foundation, which wants to develop a nationwide yoga program for schools.
The National Center for Law and Policy wrote in a declaration supporting the complaint that "EUSD's Ashtanga yoga program is inherently and pervasively religious, having its roots firmly planted in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Western Metaphysical religious beliefs and practices."
The declaration also says children who have opted out of yoga classes are subjected to bullying.
Superintendent Timothy Baird testified that parents are allowed to opt out of yoga, but the children of those who do will receive less PE time than participating students. However, they will still receive at least the state-required minimum of PE minutes, he said.
He denied that the foundation hired yoga teachers for the district or had a hand in writing the curriculum.
"I have seen nothing that would indicate that students are being indoctrinated," Baird said during testimony.
The superintendent testified that the pace of the yoga exercises and terminology have been changed to make it "kid friendly," but the poses remain the same as in the adult version.
Only part of the full health and wellness program has been implemented around the district, according to Baird.
"We're constantly writing the curriculum -- it's not done," Baird said.
Baird said EUSD students get the required minimum of 200 hours each 10 days of physical activity. Those students who are involved in yoga get 320 minutes of physical fitness.
Baird also said that he noticed that during the trial period, when only one school in the district was practicing yoga, children were getting better grades. He admitted the information is anecdotal, not scientific.
Several parents attended the first day of the trial. Those who say yoga has no place in their children's schools declined to be interviewed on the advice of their attorney.
One parent on the other side of the issue said he was attending the trial out of curiosity.
"I've personally seen yoga being done and I've done yoga and I've had no religious transformation or experience," said Scott Gaddy, a father of two. "I'm curious to see how they're saying it's more than that because I personally haven't experienced that."
Gaddy said parents with objections to yoga should be respected, but told 10News, the ABC affiliate in San Diego, he believes the lawsuit is a frivolous waste of taxpayer money.
The trial is expected to last two to three days in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge John Meyer. The parties have agreed to have Meyer decide the issue, so there is no jury.